Monday, June 27, 2011
The first family pet I can remember was a Boston terrier who had an official name but whom I called “Poochie.” I’m not sure where he’d come from, but there are several photographs of me and Poochie when I was three and four years old. What I remember most, however, was standing on the front porch with my mother, watching the animal control truck taking him away to be put down. He had developed mange, and at that time there was no cure.
Then came two mutts in rapid succession, Tippy and Rusty. Tippy (all black with a white-tipped tail, hence the name) slipped out of our backyard while we were at church and was struck by a car; Rusty (rust-colored) developed heartworm.
When I was six, my Christmas present was Skipper, half-collie and half-German shepherd and one of the best dogs ever. He grew fast and big, and eventually outgrew our small backyard. He was given to family friends who owned a huge farm across Lake Pontchartrain.
Our next dog, San-Lee, was a Pekinese. He last less than two years: my younger brother developed asthma and an allergy to the dog-s hair. My parents tried everything to solve my brother’s asthma, and eventually heard about the medicinal effect of – Chihuahuas. We got two. My brother’s asthma disappeared.
Several years went by before I rediscovered pets. Right after I graduated from college, I bought Penny, the Bassett hound. She landed with my in-laws after we were married (and living in a no-pets apartment). One fall day, I found a small gray kitten huddled under a bush. I brought her back to our apartment, and she stayed for the next 17 years. She was a cute kitten who grew into what one friend charitably called a “feline silver polishing cloth.”
A year after the cat arrived, we bought a puppy that was half Dachshund and half Cairn terrier. She looked like a squat Dachshund and dug like a Cairn terrier. She eventually landed with the in-laws, too. We called her Pokey. There’s a great family story of how my wife nearly electrocuted her that I’ll save for another time.
For a long time, it was just the cat. She died of several illnesses, all connected to old age, in 1990, when she was 17. We were pet-less for several years, while our youngest waged an ongoing campaign for a dog. The campaign was waged against his mother. His father was an ally in the battle.
She acquiesced at last, and we starting researching dogs. My wife’s requirements were (1) small, (2) not nervous or bad with kids, (3) did not shed and (4) would be cared for by son and father, which we knew would mean father, which would ultimately mean Mom, too. We finally landed upon the breed: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It was small and known to be good with kids. But it turned out that they shed tumbleweeds, massive tumbleweeds.
Then we tried to find one. There was one breeder in St. Louis at the time that was known as being rather eccentric. I did call her. Her husband said they had puppies. She got on the phone and denied it. So I talked to a friend at work who had gotten one from a breeder in Kansas. We called and made the arrangements.
For father and son, it was to be a road trip! Our youngest was in third grade. I picked him from school early one Friday afternoon in September , and we drove to Kansas. The plan had been to spend the night in Wichita, and then drive the final 40 miles to the breeder’s farm, but every hotel room in Wichita was booked for some NASCAR or hot rod event, so we backtracked to Lawrence.
The next morning, we drove to St. Mary’s, Kansas, and called the breeder, who gave us directions to her farm – several miles north, down a dirt road for a couple of miles and over a log bridge, and we were there. She raised two breeds – Cavaliers and Toy Spaniels. Her two-year-old son(the youngest of nine children, and she was eight months pregnant) wandered into the living room with our puppy, holding him like a doll. Yes, this was a breed that was good with children.
We named him Cody. He weighed less than four pounds. The first few nights home, he cried, so I would get up and take him out of his crate, lie on the sofa in the family room with him on my chest, and we would both go back to sleep. My wife didn’t know that until years later.
Cody was about two when he was joined by a stray cat that had wandered into the neighborhood. The kids fed him milk and potato chips, so he thought it was a good place to stay. One March night, a bad cold snap drove temperatures down to zero, and my wife took pity on the cat. She allowed him to sleep in the garage. That was all it took. He knew he was home. As a thank-you gift, the next evening he left a headless bunny at the back door. Just for my wife. It was very sweet.
Kiddy lived with us for about five years, until he died of feline AIDS – too many fights when he was roaming free.
Cody died last October, old for a Cavalier at 14. I still expect to see him with his nose pressed against his crate, waiting to be walked (and get a treat) whenever I come in the back door.
To see more posts on pets, please visit the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. The links will be live at 10 p.m. Central time tonight.